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What exactly does the 'Q' in LGBTQ+ mean? Well, it's complicated

What exactly does the 'Q' in LGBTQ+ mean? Well, it's complicated

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Unpacking the most complex letter in our rainbow family.

@andrewjstillman


We're a chosen family for a reason

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Anyone who’s in the LGBTQ+ community knows how it can sometimes feel lonely and isolating, especially those who still remain closeted and unsure how best to tap into their own identity.

For some it's easy to find your place in the LGBTQ+ of it all. Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, they all feel fairly self explainatory. But what if you know you're a part of the fam, but none of those labels feel quite right. Enter Q.

Within the LGBTQ+ lexicon, the “q” stands for “queer” or “questioning,” one term that has been reclaimed over the years and the other a blanket statement for those who have yet to come out or are still trying to figure out where, exactly, they land.

It goes without saying that sexuality and identity are pretty fluid throughout life. So perhaps one day you feel more B identified only to realize you're firmly Q, that's OK!

Whether you’re open about your sexuality or not, another unfortunate main tie that holds the queer community together is anxiety.

On reclaiming the word "queer"

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These days, the word “queer” is used more often, but it wasn’t too long ago when it was used as an insult or as a form of segregation. Even though many of us had to endure the word as an insult, we’re also in a period of reclaiming it to turn it into a term of endearment.

“I think about it almost as like reclaiming the other nests about me,” Aaron Martin, an LMFT in San Francisco tells PRIDE. “All of the pieces that I’ve pushed to the side throughout my life, all of the things that I was told about what was and and wrong about myself. I used to listen to the Spice Girls, and over time, I learned to bury that part of joy the music brought me. I was ashamed and thought liking it was wrong or bad. When I take that in terms of queerness, I look at the pieces of me that I still feel that to some degree.”

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Those little pieces point straight back to the shame that often keeps people closeted. However, Martin encourages people to appreciate those parts of ourselves, struggle and all, because it becomes a central passageway to discover who you really are.

“I think of queerness as this ‘other’ ness,” he says. “To identify as queer so explicitly, to actually embrace all of the pieces that are otherwise deemed unacceptable or too weird, too girly, too whatever, it’s central to who you are. Let it make you stand a little taller.”

How does anxiety impact queer mental health?

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Martin, who works specifically with LGBTQ+ patients suffering from anxiety, describes the search for belonging as the “Venn diagram of queerness and anxiety.”

“In terms of questioning your own identity, that is such a tough topic,” he says.

When it comes to reasons people don’t come out of the closet, he says, “The first emotion that comes to mind is shame. Think about the narratives we tell ourselves about the different pieces of our identity. What are the stories that we tell ourselves about the different pieces of our identities? Are you questioning your heterosexuality, or who you are as a person?”

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Outside of the shame, another main factor that keeps people hidden comes down to systemic oppression.

“I think about not only what are the stories that we tell ourselves, but what also are the stories that we’ve been told about what it means to be under this queer umbrella? Oftentimes, folks work so hard to uncouple their thoughts and feelings from that LGBTQ+ identity. I think about it as attaching two pieces of thread back together one strand at a time. It can be really overwhelming, so there’s almost an existential piece to questioning your sexuality or gender identity.”

Other struggles the queer community faces

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Since being a part of the queer community is such a large umbrella that contains so much diversity, outside of anxiety and mental strain, another thing that links us all is our relationship to our bodies.

“If we were to open Grindr at this moment,” says Martin, “I’m sure there would be a dozen or more shirtless men with bodies that look a certain way. If I’m consuming that image, time and time again, or if I’m consuming it through Instagram or targeted ads or maybe I’ve even Googled it, that can be pretty expansive. It doesn’t take much of a leap to feel like your body has to look a certain way.”

Martin also says he often hears clients talk about a “summer body” and how they have to “get ready for it,” which he challenges by saying, “What does that truly mean? To have a summer body versus a winter body versus a fall body or a spring? These outside stories tell us that there’s a part of our body that isn’t okay. It doesn’t take much to see this is why we have a higher rate of disordered eating within gay men. I see a lot of patients that deal with that.”

Outside influences that affect the LGBTQ+ community

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As of this writing, there are currently 489 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the United States, according to the ACLU. Within that, Martin stresses the higher rates of depression and anxiety within the community that battles a disordered system that should really aim to help them at all costs.

“We’re literally in an era where people are trying to legalize harm,” he says. “We’re responding to anxiety with anxiety and a worry over our safety. No wonder we’re feeling worried all the time, on a macro level. There are people quite literally trying to legislate us out of existence. Up until maybe the mid-70s, it was a mental disorder to be queer in any way. Just recognize that we have these systems of oppression working against us and community is the antidote to this.”

I'm questioning or still a little lost... what can I do?

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Whether you’re out or not, again, being queer can be incredibly lonely and isolating. Queer people have a lot more to go through when it comes to figuring out their identity as opposed to their heterosexual counterparts.

One major antidote to the loneliness Martin agrees with, as mentioned above, is the sense of community.

“Surround yourself with folks who are there to build relationships with you and treat you right,” he says. “In some ways, opening your world to other people is really, really scary, but it can also be a massively rewarding experience.”

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On that note, Martin also wants to emphasize the importance of coming out on your terms when you are ready.

“You will know when it feels best for you,” he says. “In the meantime, it’s okay to question what the ‘norm’ is and it’s okay if you find your ‘norm’ is different from the one you were taught. There’s something inherently really powerful about that process. On the one hand, while it’s vulnerable and scary, there’s this other side of the same coin that gives you this sense of power. So it’s okay to question these things and if you end up right where you began then more power to you, because the more information you know about yourself, the better.”

Besides finding a community, Martin also encourages people to find a therapist they can talk to to share what’s really going on in their heads.

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Andrew J. Stillman

Contributing Writer for Pride.com

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.